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Where are They Now? Doug Smith

Doug Smith was overlooked from the beginning.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, he hoped to play football for the hometown Ohio State University. It, however, didn't recruit him.

"I couldn't go to any other Big Ten schools," Smith said. "They all offered me, but I felt like I was a Buckeye. So I decided to go to Bowling Green."

A second-team All-MAC center as a senior, Smith was overlooked again in 1978 when he wasn't chosen during the NFL Draft.

"The Browns wanted to sign me (as a free agent), and the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Rams offered me a little bit more money because I didn't know that the cost of living was higher in L.A. than it was in the other places," Smith laughed. "They needed a long snapper, and I long-snapped since I was 10, so I thought that may be my way into the NFL.

"They had lost a playoff game because of their long snapper not getting it done, so I knew that was going to be a priority. George Allen was the (first-year) head coach and got fired (after two preseason games). He was known for not liking rookies and actually brought a long snapper with him from the Redskins, Dan Ryczek."

Surviving a coach who wasn't fond of rookies and impressing his replacement, Ray Malavasi, Smith beat the odds and made the team.

"What you begin to realize after you've been around for a while, I was hungry," Smith said. "Some of the guys that went to the big schools and were All-Americans and everything, they'd already been signing autographs from the time they were sophomores in college. I signed my first autograph when I got here and it was kind of a big deal to me."

It was also a big deal for the rookie to be playing in Los Angeles.

"Just even running out on the Coliseum floor for me, I knew the history of the Coliseum from the 1932 Olympics," Smith said. "I'm like, man, there's been so many famous Los Angeles Rams, the Dodgers played there at one time, USC, UCLA, all the spectacular people that had been there, I was in awe.

"But also, my adrenaline didn't shut off for a second even though I was on the kickoff return team. I got called into the game because Rich Saul dislocated his finger, and got moved to second-team center without knowing it."

Starting at right guard in 1980, and at right tackle the following season, Smith became the Rams' first-team center in 1982. Two seasons later, his seventh in the league, he was chosen to play in his first Pro Bowl.  

"Coach (John) Robinson came up and told me I'd been selected, and I said, 'You've got to be kidding me," Smith said with a laugh. "How am I going to walk into those locker rooms with all these guys and nobody knowing who I am?'"  

It turned out that he needn't have worried.

"(Chicago Bears running back) Walter Payton came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and introduced himself. I said, 'You don't have to introduce yourself. I know who are,'" Smith laughed. "And he goes, 'I really look forward to you blocking for me.' It was a much more difficult game then; it was much more challenging. People played considerably harder than they do today."

For six consecutive seasons, 1984-89, Smith's hard play was acknowledged around the league by being named to the Pro Bowl team.

"It's an honor and it was voted by the players. That's what I was so excited about," Smith said. "I was always appreciative because they're the guys that are watching you. The defensive guys are watching you. The other linemen are watching you after you make one Pro Bowl to see if they think you're good enough to go back.

"And the Rams had such a rich tradition of great offensive linemen. They were expecting somebody to be good from the Rams offensive linemen. A lot of those years, there were four of us there. Kent Hill, Tom Newberry, Dennis Harrah, Jackie Slater, Rich Saul, Tom Mack, all those guys were part of that tradition."

With the average length of an NFL player's career less than three seasons, Smith played 14. A remarkable 187 regular-season and 10 playoff games by someone in the middle of the trenches who had contact on every offensive play.

What makes him most proud of his career?

"I guess part of it was proving people that didn't think I was going to make it wrong. When I left on the plane (after signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent), there weren't too many people not expecting me to be back home in a few weeks," Smith said.

"The other part of it was having abilities that God let me use. I realized how blessed I was because there's a lot of good football players that maybe got cut from another team because they didn't go to the Rams, they might have been better than me at the time. I was blessed to be able to play a game for a living."

After playing the game for a living, Smith turned to coaching. First as a volunteer for one season with the Rams, which was followed by five seasons at USC, and then for 20 years, he coached the offensive line at Orange Coast College. Retiring in May 2020.

"I told all my offensive linemen I've had over the last 20 years, they're in my offensive line family," Smith said. "I had an understanding of what they were going through, the stresses they were under being a college athlete."

One of Smith's fondest memories from his time with the Rams is the camaraderie that he shared with his teammates, particularly with his fellow offensive linemen. It's a strong relationship that continues today.

"I'm kind of going through a tough time in my life right now. My wife, Debbie, has been ill for the last year. She had a stroke," Smith said. "I've had so many of the guys that I played with call or text and let me know, 'Hey, Smitty. We're praying for you.' They remember my wife being at team functions. It truly is a family. Particularly with the offensive linemen, we're a tightknit group.

"Jackie and Annie Slater have been our friends since 1978. Going to their kids' weddings and watching their boy, Matthew, play for the New England Patriots, that's been awesome."

The Smiths make their home in Mission Viejo, CA. They have three adult children: Jessica, Jenna, and Cole. They're also the grandparents of six, soon to be seven.

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